The Supreme Court has sent employers a awake call by holding that the supermarket, Morrisons, were vicariously liable for an employee's unprovoked violent assault on a customer. Overturning the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court found that there was a sufficiently close connection between the assault and the employee's job of attending to customers, such that the employer should be held vicariously liable.
The ruling has broadened the law which holds employers vicariously liable for the acts of their employees who commit a crime whilst at work.
Previously an employer could argue that an employee was acting for entirely personal reasons - being "on a frolic of their own" if they committed a crime.
It was only in cases where the employment itself involved a risk that a crime could be committed that employers had been held liable - so for instance in cases involving nightclub bouncers or wardens at residential care homes.
Amjid Khan was working at a Morrisons petrol station in Birmingham in 2008 when he punched and kicked Ahmed Mohamud. The attack happened in Small Heath, Birmingham, in March 2008, as Mr Mohamud was on his way to London for a demonstration against the war in Somalia. At the petrol station he asked staff to print some documents he had stored on a USB memory stick. He asked this as a "favour", and Mr Khan responded by being abusive and using a racial slur.
Mr Mohamud was not abusive in return, but Mr Khan followed him to his car, shouted more abuse, punched him twice in the head then leapt on him and subjected him to a "brutal attack involving punches and kicks while Mr Mohamud was curled up on the petrol station forecourt".
Mr Mohamud died in 2014 of an illness not related to the incident, and his family continued his legal fight.
The Supreme Court affirmed the "close connection" test to determine whether the wrongdoer's tortious activities are sufficiently connected to employment. When considering proximity of connection, the court has to decide whether it is just for the employer to be held liable.